Baseball In The Twilight Zone

Rounding Third, ignoring the signpost and entering the Twilight Zone

The first Twilight Zone episode I watched was on a UHF channel that seemingly always played commercials for Box Car Willy. I got hooked from the first narration:

“What you’re looking at is a ghost, once alive but now deceased. Once upon a time it was a baseball stadium that housed a major league ballclub known as the Hoboken Zephyrs. Now it houses nothing but memories and a wind that stirs in the high grass of what was once an outfield, a wind that sometimes bears a faint, ghostly resemblance to the roar of a crowd that once sat here. We’re back in time now when the Hoboken Zephyrs were still a part of the National League and this mausoleum of memories was an honest-to-Pete stadium. But since this is strictly a story of make-believe, it has to start this way: Once upon a time in Hoboken, New Jersey, it was tryout day. And though he’s not yet on the field, you’re about to meet a most unusual fella, a left-handed pitcher named Casey.”

Growing up as a fan of Cleveland baseball, it was hard to imagine that Cleveland was once a great team, capable of winning the World Series twice. During my youth, the Tribe was a shadow of their former glory. Just before I had seen the episode, the local news had told the story of the Indians having open tryouts. My attention peaked, I laid down in front of the TV, elbows on the floor with my chin resting on my palms. Rod Serling’s voice had pulled me in to watch baseball in The Twilight Zone.

 

The Mighty Casey

 

“The Mighty Casey” was the 35th episode of season one of The Twilight Zone and written by Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone.

Originally airing on June 17, 1960, it told the story of a pitcher named Casey and his brief career with the Hoboken Zephyrs managed by Mouth McGarry (played by the incomparable Jack Warden). The team is so bad that McCarry declared, “If we win one game, we have to call it a streak!” During open tryouts, Dr. Stillman (played by Abraham Sofaer) brings Casey (played by Rober Sorrell) for a tryout. The pitches Casey throws are unhittable. When McGarry agrees to put Casey on the team, Dr. Stillman admits that Casey is a robot. McGarry, willing to do anything to win, keeps his performance-enhanced pitcher, Casey, a secret. 

As excepted, Casey dazzles on the field as the Hoboken nine begin to move up in the standings. Casey’s excellence breaths life into his teammates. Eventually, fate intervenes with Casey getting hit in the head with a baseball. While being examined by a doctor Casey’s secret is revealed. He is a product of technology! Not a man! He lacks a heart. The commissioner rules on Casey’s eligibility in the league: 

“Article 6, Section 2, The Baseball Code,” the commissioner reads. “I quote: ‘Teams shall consist of nine men.’ End of quote. Men, understand? Not robots! He’s suspended! That’s my final decision!” Rob Manford would be proud!

Dr. Stillman offers to give Casey a heart to make him human. In response, the commissioner says, “Alright, alright. With a heart, I’ll give him a temporary OK until the league meeting in October. Then we’ll have to take it up. All the other teams are going to scream bloody murder. I can just hear Durocher now.” Yes, Rod Serling transported Lou Durocher into the Twilight Zone. 

A heart causes problems for Casey. It gives him empathy. He no longer wanted to ruin a career by striking players out. A heart meant that Mighty Casey could not find it in himself to strike anybody out. His new outlook on life causes Casey to part ways with baseball and become a social worker. This change of events wreaks havoc on the Zephyrs and brings them near to bankruptcy. Dr. Stillman offers the blueprints of Casey to McGarry, who examines then runs away excitedly as the episode concludes with Rod Serling’s ending narration.

“Once upon a time there was a major league baseball team called the Hoboken Zephyrs, who during the last year of their existence wound up in last place and shortly thereafter wound up in oblivion. There is a rumor, unsubstantiated of course, that a manager named McGarry took them to the West Coast and wound up with several pennants and a couple of world championships. This team had a pitching staff that made history. Of course, none of them smiled very much but it happens to be a fact that they pitched like nothing human. And if you are interested as to where these gentlemen come from you might check under ‘B’ for baseball, in the Twilight Zone.”

I started watching Twilight Zone. I continued to love this episode, it was not one of the better efforts in The Twilight Zone history. It lacked the twists of “To Serve Man.” One can’t hold it up to the visual quality of “The Eye of the Beholder” or “The Howling Man.” This episode does not have the cultural significance of “Time Enough at Last” or “The Obsolete Man.” It is, however, one of my favorites. Perhaps it is because of the quirkiness that Sorrell gave to Casey. The reaction to Casey and his pitches is accented with quirky sounds. The episode had a Three Stooges quality. 

Notables facts about the episode:

  • The episode was filmed at Wrigley Field, in Los Angeles. The same stadium used for the famous Home Run Derby series. They have ivy on the walls just like Chicago. 
  • The published short story version of this episode, names the team, The Brooklyn Dodgers. The name was changed for the TV episode so that MLB could not object. 

 

  • On June 19, 1846, Hoboken’s Elysian Fields hosted the first recorded baseball match played by recognizably modern rules. To the best of my research, Rod Serling’s name change was related, in part, because he knew of that fact. When Rod Serling wrote about baseball, he was factually correct. 
  • In watching the episode, you can see the 75th National League anniversary patch on the uniforms, placing the episode in 1951. 

 

  • Rod Serling’s final narration was referring that in 1959 the, now LA, Dodgers had a rotation of improved version of Casey included Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Roger Craig, and Larry Sherry. Robots with hearts could be pitchers.
  • Jack Warden was not the original choice for the manager. Paul Douglas, who had played a similar role in the original “Angels in the Outfield” was the original Mouth McGarry. Douglas, who had a history of alcohol abuse, appeared to be drinking again during the week of the shooting. Two days after wrapping the episode Paul Douglas died of heart failure. He was not drinking during the filming. He was dying. Rod Serling paid $25,000 of his own money to reshoot Douglas’ shots. Jack Warden replaced Douglas. The episode suffers and is disjointed. Serling did keep Douglas in one shot, the final shot of the Mouth McGarry running off with the blueprints. A small touching tribute. An actor walking off-screen for the final time. A touch of humanity is continuously sprinkled in his work. 

 

  • On the day this originally aired, Ted Williams homered in a 3-1 win against Cleveland. When the ball cleared the fence at Cleveland Municipal Stadium it was his 500th career home run. 
  • Seven years after this episode, Ed and Barb Kovach were almost late to their wedding.

 

Baseball on v9-Gamma

 

Serling would once again include baseball in Twilight Zone in episode 16 of Season 4. “On Thursday We Leave For Home,” authored by Rod Serling, tells the story of a colony that built on a distant planet, V9-Gamma, in 1991. In 2021(!) they send a transmission back requesting transport back to Earth. The dual suns constant daylight and heat making life too difficult. When the transport ship returns one of the important matters the settlers ask about is baseball. To lift their spirits the settlers and crew play baseball in the shade of the transport ship. A quote during the baseball scene gives a glimpse into Rod Serling’s view on baseball, “That’s the universal language, Captain. Baseball.”

 

And A Word on Rod Serling

 

After graduating high school in 1943, Serling joined the military. Given his Jewish faith, he hoped to help defeat Hitler. He, however, ended up as a paratrooper fighting in Asia. Experiences in the war gave Serling PSTD that would affect him for the rest of his life. His war experience would drive him to become a writer and influence his work. 

Rod Serling was one of the first popular and successful writings in television. “Patterns,” a teleplay deconstructing 1950s’ corporate American highlighted the ability of power and money to corrupt the system, shot Serling to stardom. He faced censorship by the companies sponsoring the shows his televised stories. Gaining influenced in the growing business of television, Rod Serling created the Twilight Zone as a platform to tell his stories with a fictional angle that would allow the stories to slip past any censorship issues. 

Many of his teleplays and Twilight Zone episodes revolved around man’s inhumanity. When he wrote about boxing, a sport he participated in during his time in the military, there was always a moral story to be told. 

 

The Lost Importance

 

But not with baseball. 

That love of the universal language of baseball showed in his writing. Besides the two Twilight Zone episodes that include baseball, he wrote four teleplays and a short story about baseball. Every one of them is a comedy or, at the minimum, a lighted-hearted story that ends on a happy note. The “angry young man” of television could not write an angry story about baseball. 

His stoic nature during the narration sequences surrounding each Twilight Zone episode was an act for the show. He was a fun-loving man who often would wear a lampshade to bring a laugh to a party. Even though he was Jewish, he loved Christmas. His Twilight Episode “The Night of the Meek” is a testament to his joy of Christmas. 

Anne Serling, Rod Serling’s daughter, remembers times she would be in the car with her dad, driving. Vince Scully’s voice on the radio, Rod would beat his hand against the steering wheel either in jubilation or frustration of his beloved Dodgers.  

He was one of us. 

A baseball fan. Baseball was an escape, much like Jack Keauroc. Baseball gave him joy and a chance to breathe. Baseball was not just a sport but a universal language to bring people together. A diversion from troubles and pull us out of our Twilight Zone.

Somehow baseball needs to go back to being the diversion to skip the Twilight Zone when we see the signpost ahead. 

 

Photo by Jeremy Perkins/Unsplash | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)

Mat Kovach

Despite being an Indians fan in the late 70's I grew to love baseball. I started throwing spitballs when I was 10 and have been fascinated with competitive shenanigans in baseball ever since.

  • Duchak says:

    Great article! Best show ever!

  • Geo says:

    Excellent article! Great insight on Rod and his love of the game.

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